What do you do when everything makes your child scream? What do you do when being told that they can’t climb on the desk makes them curl in a ball and sob? When being told that they can play with blocks, or color, or play with My Little Ponies, while you do something makes them throw the crayons and try to bite you? What do you do when being gently picked up and placed on their bed to calm down makes them shriek, and sob, and bite themselves?
I thought that getting out of the house might help. I thought that being outside might make it better. So, yesterday, after about three hours screaming, I took Fiona on a walk.
I was wrong. She fought the walk tooth and nail. She refused her socks. Refused her shoes. Clung to the couch, as I literally dragged her out of our house. Screamed at the top of her lungs as I shut the door behind us.
I shudder to think what our next door neighbor thinks of us. She looked out her door and said hello to us with worried eyes, as I gently pulled Fiona down the sidewalk. I wish I could explain to her, but what do you say? “Hi, we don’t even know each other’s names, but I promise that I’m not actually torturing my beautiful, perfect looking child.”
Less than a block up the road, she suddenly darted ahead and pressed her face to a fence, “Mommy,” she said brightly, “We should go there! There are other kids! We could make friends!”
I cringed at the phrase ‘make friends’, because over the last few weeks I’ve heard it so many times. Every time Fiona sees another child, or hears them, she becomes frantic with the need to talk to them and make friends. No amount of playtime with them is enough though. On those occasions that the children she sees are outside and she does get to play and make friends, no amount of time is enough. Not an hour, not two, not even three. The end of every playtime, regardless of reason, is marked with utter hysteria and screaming.
I could hear children laughing and splashing through the fence. A pool full of mostly older children at a different apartment complex.
I looked at her. I considered the weather, which was a touch on the cool side. I decided that it wouldn’t hurt, “Fiona, would you like to go swimming? I asked. “We can’t go here. This isn’t our pool, but we could go to the pool at our apartment.”
She looked at me skeptically. “Will there be kids?” She asked.
I shrugged, “I don’t know.”
Twenty minutes later we walked over to our pool. As we crossed between the trees, and stopped to smell every flower, I realized that this had already taken us farther than our walk. We were walking in the same direction and there was no screaming, crying, or whining. If nothing else, we had won back these ten minutes.
We unlocked the gate to the pool and found a quiet oasis. Utterly empty and surround by trees, the pool was filled with scattered leaves and sticks and sun-dappled water. We dropped our towels on chairs and dipped our toes into the cool water. We dabbled our feet in and splashed. Fiona insisted that we splash in the 8 foot and the 5 foot and 3 and 1/2 foot. She read each depth aloud to me. (When did my girl learn fractions? Probably while we were baking…)
We jumped in and then back out again. We floated leaf boats. We sat in every deck chair. We smelled all of the flowers around the pool. We splashed each other with our feet at the edge of the water and watched little birds flit from tree to tree. We let go of the anxiety and the anger and the screaming and the frustration.
Eventually, she was shivering and I talked her into heading back to the house and taking a warm shower with me. We wound our way back through the trees. Stopping at every flower. Spinning around the posts. Watching birds and squirrels.
Once we were home, we bought a half hour of peace with a shower turned bath, then another with PBSkids.com games, then an hour with Mighty Machines on the Kindle. And interspersed were problems and tantrums and about a half hour of being asked if there was a spider on her back, but that little oasis of fun, of pleasure, of peace, bought us, me, the patience and endurance to continue.
What do you do when your child screams? What do you do when nothing can comfort them?
I buy peace and patience ten minutes at a time. I purchase islands of hope in a sea of frustration. I pay with time, and heartbreak, and fear. And I fight. I keep trying. I keep picking myself and her up and I hold us against the storms, because, really, what else is there to do?